In order to prepare for a student-led discussion such as a debate, students should read about both sides of an issue. There are several Newsela Text Sets that provide two sides to debatable issues that students could explore. As students read these texts or Text Sets, they can annotate both sides of the debatable topic and organize their text-based evidence. Then students can work in collaborative groups to synthesize the information and evidence they have gathered in order to prepare for the debate. Students can then use what they have learned to participate in a structured debate in small groups.
Teacher Preparation and Planning:
Decide on a topic for students to debate and create/select a Newsela Text Set which provides information on both sides of this topic.
Find a quote, video, and/or other resource to help introduce this topic. See School Start Times Quote and Video in the resource section below for examples.
Introduce the topic that will be debated. Teachers can choose to start with a quote (see the example using School Start Times in the resources section below) to get the discussion started.
Ask students to draw upon their background knowledge to brainstorm possible benefits and drawbacks related to the topic as a class. Write down these ideas on the benefits/drawbacks slide. See an example slide in the resources section below.
Connect to a video or other resource that helps students to develop a better understanding of the topic that will be debated. See the example using School Start Times in the resources section below.
Have students share additional information learned from the video and then add this information to the benefits/drawbacks slide.
Explain that while students may be starting to develop an opinion on this issue, further research is necessary to truly develop an educated opinion and be prepared to effectively debate this topic.
Assign the Newsela article or Text Set with the following instructions: "Read at least three articles in this Text Set. For each article, highlight in RED the drawbacks. Highlight in GREEN the benefits."
Students read three articles of their choice in the Text Set, highlighting drawbacks in red and benefits in green. Once students have completed the initial readings, they should go back for a second close read of the articles to gather the best text evidence representing both sides. They should use the evidence they collected to fill out the benefits/drawbacks text evidence organizer included in the resources section below.
Assign students to groups (proposition/opposition) or allow students to join a group of their choice.
Have students prepare for the debate by doing the following:
Have team members discuss information collected on their benefits/drawbacks text evidence organizer and decide on the top three arguments supporting their viewpoint.
Have students record top three arguments and supporting evidence on Debate Preparation Sheet (see resources section below).
Have team members then discuss potential arguments the opposition will present and brainstorm possible rebuttals against these ideas. (Teachers can decide if each student in the group should fill out this organizer individually or if one team member should be designated as the note taker.)
Have students consult the Debate Rubric (see resource section below) to ensure they have fully prepared for the debate.
Divide the class in two sides (pro/con). Assign debate roles to students in each group.
The Debate Responsibilities and Procedures document in the resources section below outlines 7 possible speaker roles and 4 possible notetaker roles for the debate, but the number of roles can vary depending on class size.
For example, in the Debate Responsibilities and Procedures document, one students' role as a speaker is to introduce and explain the first piece of evidence, and one students' role as a notetaker is to write down the other side's first piece of evidence and take notes for the rebuttal.
One possibility would be to have each team member select a role out of a hat and then teachers can allow students to exchange roles if they wished.
Have students engage in the debate
Review the debate procedures and roles using the Debate Responsibilities and Procedures resource below before students engage in the debate
Then, instruct students to debate using these guidelines.
Assess each team using the debate rubric (in the resources section below).
Be sure to have students complete the after debate reflection, in the resources section below, individually and then discuss their answers with the class.
Debate: Should Secondary Schools Start Later?
Cell Phones in Elementary/Middle School
Debate: Gun Control
Will you allow students to select the side of the issue they'd like to debate? What will you do if the vast majority of students all favor one side?
How will you modify the debate roles to fit your class size? What system will you have in place in someone is absent the day of the debate?
How could you involve the larger school community in this experience? Could you invite the principal, superintendent, or Board of Education to attend the debate? If the students know that policy makers will be present, they will be much more motivated to do their best work.
What systems will you have in place for students who are anxious/reluctant to speak in front of the class? Can you provide practice time where students can practice their roles in small groups or write notes on a note card as a reference during their part?
Let all students know at the beginning of the unit that they may be responsible for debating either side of the issue. This will encourage them to research each side more closely instead of just finding information to support "their" side.
While it may be more enjoyable for students to get to pick their side for the debate, asking students to defend the opposing side is an opportunity for students to develop their critical thinking skills.
While teachers could assign debate roles at the beginning of the group work, I prefer to assign the roles after the preparatory work is done. This encourages all group members to be invested in each part of the process.
In developing this strategy, the following resources were consulted.